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The Retro Review series returns with 2006’s The Reaping: a two-part audio adventure featuring the Sixth Doctor, Peri… and the Cybermen!
Written by Joseph Lidster, this story sees Peri return home to Baltimore in 1984, only to discover that her best friend’s father, Anthony Chambers, has recently been murdered. Joining in with the mourners, including her mother Janine (Claudia Christian) and Anthony’s children Kathy (Jane Perry) and Nate (Jeremy Lindsay-Taylor), Peri soon begins to suspect that the circumstances surrounding the murder are far less simple than they might seem. The Doctor has the same inkling, and sets out to investigate, only to come across a very old enemy…
What starts as a US-style small town police drama then turns into an all-out horror story as Anthony is reincarnated as a Cybermen, who goes on a murderous rampage through the city in an effort to upgrade the population. This is one of the strongest Cyberman stories on audio, perhaps even in general, with Lidster really tapping into what makes the metal monsters scary and letting it play out in sometimes quite graphic detail.
This is also a fantastic showcase for Nicola Bryant. The Reaping is, in a way, Peri’s version of Aliens of London/World War Three, with the character returning home to find things much changed, and an alien menace working behind the scenes. It’s not quite as well executed as that story, with some of the reactions to her return seeming a little muted or undeveloped, but it’s some of the strongest material for Peri’s character, and Bryant as an actress, that I’ve seen or heard either on TV or at Big Finish. I’ve always found Peri a little hard to get a handle on (maybe because, I hate to admit, I haven’t actually seen Planet of Fire, her introductory story), but after this, I feel I know a lot more about her character and this is all down to Lidster’s exceptional script.
Similarly, Colin Baker gets some great material here, with his showdown with the Cyber Leader in part two being the highlight. There are still traces of the more brash and abrasive Sixth Doctor from Season 22 in Lidster’s writing, which is a nice change from the calmer, more avuncular Old Sixie we’re used to from Big Finish’s stories.
The guest cast is strong throughout, with Claudia Christian doing a great job as Peri’s mother Janine (it’s amazing how similar her and Nicola Bryant’s voices are!), Denise Bryer putting in a hilarious performance as the slightly dotty Mrs Van Gysegham and Vincent Pirillo impressing as Daniel Woods, an innocent man wrongfully locked up for murdering Anthony. Nicholas Briggs voices the Cybermen, and expertly apes David Banks as a 1980s-style Cyber Leader.
In terms of post-production, the sound-design and music on this story are truly next-level. David Darlington‘s score is a particular highlight, with its slow, mournful guitar and jazzy shakers putting me in mind of Murray Gold‘s music for The Pilot, though of course this story preceded it by a good eleven and a half years! The opening cycle through multiple radio stations in multiple time periods was also quite impressive, and a striking introduction to the story. Fantastic stuff indeed.
Overall, this is an incredibly strong story, gripping from start to finish and with a pleasing focus on Peri’s character. The guest cast is effective, the sound design is wonderful and the Cybermen are given a story that truly emphasises how scary they are. If it weren’t for the slightly weak ending, this would get five stars. Almost perfect.
The Reaping is available on download from http://www.bigfinish.com